Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Democrats will try to blast three bills aimed at protecting kids onto House floor

Democrats in the House will try to blast out of committee three bills aimed at protecting children.

The measures, by Rep. Ellie Boldman Hill, D-Missoula, and Rep. Pat Noonan, D-Ramsay, died in their respective committees.

House Bill 236, by Hill, would have eliminated a license exemption for religious private adolescent treatment programs.

HB 527, also by Hill, would have defined “cyber-bullying” in state law and created a misdemeanor offense.

Both bills were tabled in the House Judiciary Committee on party-line votes with majority Republicans voting against the measures.

HB98, by Noonan, would have appropriated funds to increase participation in the school breakfast program.

HB236 has caused the most stir and even caught the attention of CNN’s primetime cable news program AC360°, which on Friday aired a six-minute segment on the issues surrounding the bill and the Legislature’s handling of it.

The bill stemmed from allegations of abuse at Pinehaven Christian Children’s Ranch in St. Ignatius. AC360° last August aired allegations from former Pinehaven students who accused the pastor and school leaders of abuse, including choking.

The House Judiciary Committee tabled the bill on Feb. 23 and it was believed dead until last week, when Hill asked legislative staff about the bill’s status as a revenue bill.

According to Todd Everts, the Legislature’s chief lawyer, HB236 should have been classified as a revenue bill because it would require the boarding schools covered under the measure to pay a licensing fee, which would generate revenue for the state.

“We just missed it in the review process,” Everts said Monday.

The bill’s reclassification as a revenue bill is important because the deadline for transmitting revenue bills from one house to the other is not until April 5. The deadline for general bill transmittal was Feb. 28. Since HB236 is now classified as a revenue bill, Democrats have until April 5 to blast it on to the floor and pass it with a full floor vote.

Rep. Jenny Eck, D-Helena, is one of the advocates for HB236 on the judiciary committee. Eck said even if the Democrats fail in bringing the bill to the floor today they will try again.

Follow @TribLowdown on twitter for the latest updates on this afternoon’s debate on the blast motions.

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